Let me guess. That awful feeling you got from your last lover is painfully familiar. Are you astonished at your ability to choose partners who are uniquely qualified to hit you where it hurts most? Take heart- we all have that talent. Do not underestimate your ability to walk right back into that old wound. The wolf may be in a different sheep’s clothing, but beware- it’s still gonna bite.
I know. You promised yourself, no more of that kind. No way. You go out of your way to date prospects who seem different. And then, once that honeymoon haze has worn off, POW, SLAP, KABLAM- you’re worst nightmare is re-enacted. Again.
Don’t beat yourself up. We all do it. How do you avert reinjuring yourself? Here are some quick tips. If you’re really interested in doing some deeper work to jettison the toxic pattern, resources are provided at the end of this blog.
1. Identify the FEELING: You can start by getting very clear about that old familiar feeling. How in particular, do you feel hurt? Think back to the last time you had a relationship go wrong and identify the thing that triggered you most. Was it a feeling of being disrespected? Abandoned? Bullied? Suffocated? Get specific. What happened that made you feel like you’ve felt too many times before and you’d like never to feel again?
2. See the PATTERN: What do all your past unworkable relationships have in common? Be brutally honest. What features do they share? For example, you might observe, “I seek out men who are initially intimate and passionate but end up shutting me out.” Or “my girlfriends seem sweet at first, but they end up blaming and criticizing me.” Or, “My boyfriends really seem devoted to me but they become dependent upon me to be the adult- the responsible one.” The common threads may surprise you–and this is data you can use.
3. Find the SOURCE: When did someone first treat you in a way that resembles that pattern that keeps showing up in your love life? Trace it back in time. What’s your earliest memory of feeling this way? For example, if your lovers tend to extremes of hot and cold without warning- was one of your caregivers like that in your childhood? Investigating this way can lead to great insight and understanding. We unconsciously move towards what’s familiar, whether it’s good for us or not. Making wounds conscious can get them on the radar. If you get an “Ah ha!” realization, you may see that bullet coming next time and dodge it.
4. Decide what you NEED: If you can see the damaging pattern that repeats, go a step further and ask what would correct it. For example, if women tend to dominate you “just like your mother lorded over your father and the family,” you’ll want to notice that tendency in any new prospects and think twice. If you can see that tendency early on as a red flag, then you will be less likely to go back for more. Consider, too, what quality is the antidote to the problem. You don’t have to go to the extreme opposite, just look for the healthy version of this trait. For example, you might want to choose an assertive woman who communicates gently, so you don’t feel attacked and victimized. Or maybe you need a man who simply “shows up” reliably for you. Frame it in the positive- identifying what you need based on what you do not.
5. Make a WISH list: When you get clear about what you need from a partner, list those traits that you will search out and insist upon. The list is different for everyone because our wounds are different. One person may be fine with a little temper, while another person may be thrown off by any kind of upset for days. Create a unique list based on your history, sensitivities and needs. Then, you will be less likely to take vows with someone who is going to hit your triggers with menacing precision on a daily basis. A list of 5 to 10 favorable characteristics will steer you right. You won’t get them all, but make sure you get all your non-negotiables and maybe a few bonus traits. For example, “I want: trust, affection, respect, attention, emotional intelligence & good dental hygiene.” Highlight those qualities that best assure you will not get what you cannot deal with down the road.
6. THINK twice: And now for a word of caution. The attraction to those who are uniquely suited to rewound us is persistent. It can feel unnatural to go towards a healthier partner. You may find that the “good guys” just aren’t so interesting, or the “nice girls” do nothing for you. That magnetic pull just isn’t there. Before you dismiss that lackluster Tinder date, investigate if what’s missing might actually be that old thing you would be better off without. Maybe he’s not the life of the party, but at least he’s not another bar fly who stumbles in drunk at 4:11AM smelling like whiskey and other women… Riiiight? Give the ones who aren’t super-charged a second chance if you are curious enough. Lead with your heart but let your brain have a say, too.
If it feels like we’re onto something here, look for future blog posts on relationships and email me your questions or topic ideas. For more extensive reading, I recommend 2 books by Harville Hendrix; Keeping the Love You Find and Getting the Love You Want. They cover unconscious motivations and pervasive relationship pitfalls like those above in more detail. If you’re navigating the dating scene now, you may be interested in attending one of my support groups for singles in San Francisco or Palo Alto, CA. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Good luck out there, intrepid lovers. Cupid and I are behind you. Armor up for amour and go forth in the name of love.